Ice Fishing on Mille Lacs Lake

Learn more about one of the top ice-fishing destinations in the Midwest.

Walleye caught on a Rapala
One of the tastiest sweet-water fish, walleye are a prize winter catch and will take a variety of baits and lures. Pro staffer Adam Rasmussen with a respectable fish. Jon Whittle

Target Species

  • Walleye
  • Crappie
  • Perch

Eons ago, a glacier pushed south into central Minnesota and created one of the top ice-fishing destinations in the Midwest. Mille Lacs Lake is a shallow, clear lake with abundant rocks and gravel beds. At 132,516 acres, the second-largest lake in the state also has plenty of frozen real estate for ice shanties. With an average depth of 30 feet or less, it is ideal for walleye, crappie and yellow perch action. The winter window starts in early December and continues through February, when walleye season closes for spawning. Panfish are still available until the end of March, dependent on the temperatures. The shoreline rim is good early, but in the dead of winter, the fish typically move deeper onto midlake structure seeking warmer water. Walleyes feed on juvenile yellow perch, shiner and cisco minnows. Crappie key in on plankton and small minnows, while yellow perch add bloodworms, mayflies and other insects, plus their own kind to the diet. In addition to live or dead baits, ice enthusiasts use tipped or rattle spoons and vertical jigging lures in natural patterns because of the water clarity.

Simms Challenger jacket
Don’t let freezing temperatures ruin the day. The Simms Challenger insulated fishing jacket provides protection from the elements without hindering the action. These waterproof nylon jackets with PrimaLoft Silver Insulation also come with an adjustable storm hood, loops for ice picks, sealed zippers, chest- and hand-warmer pockets, and articulated sleeves with adjustable cuffs. Challenger jackets also have an adjustable waistline and a D-loop kill-switch attachment. Matching bibs complete the set. $299.95; Courtesy Simms

“Early mornings and late afternoons when the light is low are the prime times to fish,” says Tony Roach of Roach’s Guide Service. “We like to set up on points or inside turns during those periods of high activity. Midday we’re usually moving to find cruising fish, using spoons and jigs to trigger reactionary strikes. That’s when we’re ice trolling, or ‘hole hopping,’ as some call it, to find the concentrations around structure in deeper water. The normal setup is a dead-stick outfit with a small split shot and live shiner minnow a foot or two off the bottom, plus an active jigging rod. That one-two combo covers the bases.”

ice fishing
Ice-fishing pursuits are popular on the expansive Mille Lacs Lake. Be prepared with the proper gear. Jason Stemple

Where to Stay

  • Nitti’s Hunter’s Point Resort has cabins, a boat ramp and slips, a restaurant/bar and an RV park for its guests.  
  • Appledoorn’s Sunset Bay Resort, also located directly on Mille Lacs Lake, offers cabins, guest rooms and houses for larger groups, a bar/restaurant, plus boat launches and dockage.

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